Thailand urged to play ‘constructive role’ in North Korea

Writer: 
Wasamon Audjarint

BANGKOK (The Nation/ANN) - Expert urges Thailand to maintain its neutral stance 

The US has an expectation that Thailand, as a regional Asean country, would play a “constructive role” in the stand-off between the Western giant and North Korea at a time of sky-high tensions related to the latter’s nuclear weapons tests, according to the US envoy who visited Bangkok this week.

An expert on US affairs viewed the American diplomat’s trip as a reflection of the US State Department’s agenda to raise negotiation as a possible solution to tone down the Trump White House’s emphasis on sanctions and hard power military exercises. 

“I think we should exercise both direct diplomacy as well as sanctions,” Joseph Yun, the US Special Representative for North Korea Policy, said yesterday. “That’s our policy based on pressure and engagement and we do want to engage in diplomacy.”

Yun was in Bangkok for two days to discuss denuclearising North Korea with Thai second-ranked officers.

Though long scheduled, the meetings happened to be held just couple of days after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the US is ready to talk with North Korea without preconditions.

Yun has been going to Europe, Asia and Asean countries, namely Myanmar and Singapore, to promote the campaign against North Korea. He also went to Japan ahead of his visit to Bangkok.

On Thursday, he had a 30-minute meeting with the National Security Council (NSC) secretary-general General Wanlop Rugsanoah before talks with Deputy Foreign Minister Veerasak Futrakul.

Yesterday, he also had an informal lunch meeting with the Foreign Ministry’s director-general of the American and South Pacific Affairs department. The meetings were meant to be diplomatically friendly as Yun said there was no talk on tangible measures, enforcement issues or any specific request.

This could be despite last week’s report from a US-based think tank that Thailand might have facilitated continued trading by North Korean vessels.

“Obligations that govern what countries do are the UNSC resolutions. We will leave it up to the authorities in each individual country to deal with that,” the envoy said. 

“We also looked at the data. There is virtually no trade, as the Prime Minister [General Prayut Chan-o-cha] mentioned, between North Korea and Thailand.”

He was referring to Prayut’s rejection of a report on Tuesday, when he stressed that Thailand did not help any shipment and had already stopped trading with the pariah country.

Prayut had said that Thailand’s actions are in compliance with the Asean consensus to follow United Nations Security Council resolutions. 

During the first nine months of 2017, trade amounted to US$1.61 million (Bt52 million), a 94-per-cent drop from the same period in 2016, and a tiny 0.0004 per cent of Thailand’s total trade. Thai companies no longer have investments in North Korea.

Yun, meanwhile, praised Thailand for “playing constructively” at international levels. Thailand was also successful in encouraging North Korea to join the Asean Regional Forum during its chairmanship, he said.

“It’s clear that Thailand, as a US treaty ally and with its long-time connection with the Korean Peninsula, is a regional leader and has a rightful role to play,” he continued. “I would welcome all kinds of help. Any constructive help is welcome.”

Viboonpong Poonprasit, lecturer on international relations at Thammasat University, said that the US would expect Thailand to merely serve as “good offices” for negotiations without expecting prominent comments from the Kingdom.

“Thailand’s current geopolitical stance is not dependent much on either the US or China. So, it will be a good place to talk,” the academic said. “It is also not a party to the Korean Peninsular tension or the South China Sea [tension]. It is a rather neutral party compared with some other Asean countries.”

It would be wise for Thailand to follow the Asean consensus and international law and not put itself much in the spotlight,” said Viboonpong. 

“It’s about maintaining a balance between major powers. The Thai junta has recently seen good signs from the European Union. So it’s better not to pull any strings for the authoritarian country.”